Boundaries in relationships are the markers that help differentiate you from someone else, or communicate where you “begin” and “end.”
Using an analogy of land ownership with fences and gates, boundaries are the fences around your land. Gates are the passageways that allow others onto your land. You control the gates on your land. If anyone comes onto your land in any fashion except through the gates, without your permission, they are trespassing.
You are responsible for your own fences that mark your land, and you are responsible for the gates that allow entrance into your land. The reason responsibility for fences and gates is so important is because your territory, that is, your personhood, is of great worth.
If a person does not realize that she or he is an owner of land, again, a place of great worth, they will have great difficulty developing boundaries. Fences can become impenetrable walls or completely permeable, no marker at all. Gates can become locked permanently, with a “no admission” sign, or they can be easily opened from the outside, instead of controlled by the owner from the inside. Boundaries become difficult when person has been robbed of the sense of their inborn worth at an earlier time. Others took “possession” of them through the many ways a person can lose their sense of worth.
To understand what makes up one’s land as a person, consider what is within your fences, or exactly what you are responsible for. As a grown up, I am responsible for my:
1. Feelings and needs, communicating them and valuing them.
2. Attitudes/beliefs, developing tolerance and strength through them.
3. Behaviors, realizing that I can live response-able, not reactive.
4. Choices, and their consequences for good or not so good.
5. Values, and the willingness to struggle to maintain them.
6. Limits, which includes the ability to cease or persevere.
7. Talents/gifts, to offer them as a form of expressing value.
8. Desires, not minimizing them through lust or foreclosing on them through disappointment.
9. Love, the capability to offer yourself to another and receive an offering from another.
You and I are responsible for our own boundaries. You are “response-able” to communicate your internal experience to another. You are not responsible FOR another, but you are created to be response-able TOWARDS another through clear, truthful identification and communication. Through boundaries we respect each other, value equal worth, and love well in a trustworthy way. We let others “in” who have boundaries themselves. Also, because we have boundaries, we keep people “out” who cannot tolerate our own respect and value for what God has given us—our great worth.
Chip Dodd, PhD, is a teacher, trainer, author, and counselor, who has been working in the field of recovery and redemption for over 30 years. With his clinical experience, love of storytelling, and passion for living fully, Chip developed a way of seeing and expressing one’s internal experience called the Spiritual Root System™. To read more from Chip, visit his blog, or check out his books.